School starts for my children next Wednesday, so this is the last week of summer vacation for us! It definitely went by too quickly this year, and I’m in full on back to school mode: gathering new supplies, transitioning the kids to earlier bedtimes, and meditating (that one is for me). While I do look forward to getting back to the routine that school days impose on our family, I know that the beginning of the year is an opportunity for us set the tone for that routine, so I’ve been feeling the pressure to do it right.
Fortunately, I can reassure myself, this is my 6th year as a parent of school aged kids (if you count Kyle’s one year of preschool). I’ve picked up a few survival tactics along the way that have worked for us. I will be preparing these tools (and my mindset) during this last week of freedom, and I’d like to share them with you.
5 Tips For Starting the New School Year Off on the Right Foot
Last day of summer ritual
Ritual is very important for our family. We operate much more smoothly when the same things happen at the same-ish time every day. But above and beyond the daily wake-up time, the morning routine, and the bike ride to school, there are other less frequent rituals we engage in to mark the passage of time. For example, one of my favorite new traditions is a special family dinner the night before the first day of school. We live about 20 minutes’ drive from the beach in Malibu California. Our favorite family spot out there is called Neptune’s Net. It’s a greasy shack by the beach filled with bikers, beach people, and tourists. We drive out there before sunset, order a meal of cheeseburgers and fries, and top it off with ice cream cones for the kids. Then we take a short walk on the beach at sunset, and that’s the end of summer. Sad, a little, but it also marks a new beginning.
It’s the bane of your existence – the continuous flow of papers that come home from school folded, battered, crumpled up at the bottom of the backpack. Or, just as bad, thrust into your face with enthusiasm by a child who doesn’t care that you have a hot cup of coffee in your hands or you’re on the phone. I suggest getting ahead of the onslaught before it even starts. Here’s how I have wrestled that mess into submission:
Countertop tray: all papers that don’t need immediate attention get thrown here. So do pens, pencils, erasers, little tchotchke toys, various Legos, and mail. Once a week I go through the entire load setting aside a pile for recycling, a pile to go to my office, a pile to be sent back into the kids’ school folders, and items for each of their bulletin boards.
Bulletin boards: I have a large bulletin board for each child. On each I tack some of their artwork, instructions for ongoing projects like book reports or group projects, reward certificates, and various keepsakes and photographs that the children themselves like to save. Having his own bulletin board is an important ownership tool for the child. I also have a smaller bulletin board that’s right in the middle of the family public space. That’s where I keep coupons, reminders, permission slips, and a small plastic baggie to collect box tops.
Plastic filing boxes: School papers and artwork that I want to keep forever (or until the boys move out) get filed by grade year into a see-through plastic filing box, one for each kid. The stuff I like but must throw away or recycle for space’s sake gets digitally archived (I use an app called ArtKive).
Expect the unexpected
You can pre-make lunches, stock up on Post-It Notes, and set out your kids’ outfits the night before. No matter what you do beforehand, life will get crazy. Sports, after-school activities, group projects, field trips, sick days…all of those will happen and throw you off your game. So prepare your “just in case” resources. A trusted backup chauffeur. An extra house key hidden in a strategic location. A doctor at your beck and call?
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on a busy morning before school. This actually happened to me and it was as great as it sounds.
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Empower the children
Whatever age your children are, find appropriate tasks for them to handle. While this helps you get out the door faster in the morning by dividing up the labor, it also makes them feel more responsible and proud. Plus your whole job as a parent is to prepare them to be adults. Might as well do this gradually instead of all of a sudden kicking them out of the nest at 18 not knowing how to do anything. Mine have finally mastered brushing their teeth and dressing themselves – Brady is very fashion conscious and careful to pick clothing items that are “cool.”
Now they are 7 and 9, so even though I cringe at relinquishing control over any part of my finely orchestrated mornings, I think they’re ready to assemble their own lunches. We’re doing a dry run a few days before school starts. Wish me luck.
Establish a human relationship at school
Okay so I’ve taken this one way over the top – I’ll be the co-president of the PTA this year. Don’t do that. That is not my tip. (I mean, you should totally do that if it’s your thing – it’s a lot of work but it can be fun if you have the right attitude.) My point is, don’t just communicate by email and permission slips. Even if you are a busy working parent, it is worth the time to go into your kids’ school early in the year to meet their teachers, put your face in front of the office staff, say hello to the principal, and get a feel for the vibe at school. Your kids see you taking an interest in their lives, they feel like they can confide in you or tell you stories about what goes on because you can visualize the places where they learn and play. And the school staff can put a face to your name if you ever need their help, which you probably will.
Bonus: breathe and roll with it. As with anything parenting related, once you get a system in place and you think you’re golden, something will change: your kid’s attitude, the school’s personnel or process, your own availability, whatever. The Universe has a way of messing with you once you settle down and think you’re getting good at this. So take a deep breath, count your lucky stars, and be flexible.
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